The Tomb of Arthur, Prince of Wales

I stood, in Worcester Cathedral with a visitor guide, looking at the tomb of King John. We we looking down at John's effigy, going over the mistakes he made, visitors' reactions to seeing the tomb, his reputation and my slightly morbid question is the tomb just for show or is he really inside there (he is). I mentioned that I'd loved history since I was about five, and had waited decades for the opportunity to see John's tomb. 

'Well then', said the guide, with a glint in her eye, 'you'll love this'. She led me across the tiled floor up some worn stone steps and into a beautifully carved enclosure. 'This is Arthur's tomb', she said, with a smile and a dramatic sweep of an arm. 

Arthur Tudor was named after a legend and his life, in the end, also slipped into legend. He was the first born child of Elizabeth of York and Henry VII and represented the houses of both York and Lancaster, ending the Wars of the Roses, or at least in theory. When Arthur succeeded his father's throne, his rule would be unchallenged and uncontested. 

Arthur was born in Winchester in September 1486, just eight months after his parents' wedding night. He was brought up every inch the son of a king, complete with tiny weapons of warfare to hone his archery skills. Henry's Privy Purse Records mention a purchase of a bow for the five-year old prince in 1492. 

As he was the first blood of both Lancaster and York, and the second in the Tudor line, a similarly prestigious marriage was arranged for him. He was to marry Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. In 1501 they married at St Paul's Cathedral, both clothed in white satin, while Henry and Elizabeth watched. The newlyweds, as Prince and Princess of Wales, were sent to Ludlow, where Arthur was given his own household to maintain at Ludlow Castle.

Arthur famously boasted that he had 'been in the midst of Spain', on his wedding night but their union wasn't to last long. The prince became ill and never recovered, dying at the age of fifteen on 2 April 1502. 

Elizabeth and Henry were understandably bereft, with one witness reporting they both broke down in their grief and took turns consoling the other. Not only had they lost their beloved son but also the immediate future of the Tudor dynasty, as well as the lengthy alliance they had contracted with Spain. As we all know, Henry had a brother, Henry Duke of York, and attention quickly shifted towards raising him to be the next Tudor king. He succeeded his father, in Arthur's place, in 1509. 

The first thing that shocked me about Arthur's tomb was how intricately detailed the carvings are. Not only on the outside but inside, too. There are lots of carved figures, including a knight who has since lost his arms and a leg, along with shields and other depictions of heraldry. When you remember that this was all created by hand using hammers and chisels, it must have taken a long time to complete.

As I walked slowly around the tomb, gazing up at the carvings on the ceiling and after five hundred years, the almost skeletal appearance of the enclosure around it, I wondered if Henry and Elizabeth had walked up these same stone steps to pay their own respects.

The tomb certainly has a very still and atmospheric feeling about it, more so than other cathedrals and places I've visited. It's well worth a visit, just to witness a part of Tudor history that is often ignored. I mean, without the death of Arthur, we might not have had Henry VIII and the landscape and religious structure of England today may have looked very different... 

Worcester Cathedral is a short walk from Worcester Train Station.  I stayed overnight by the river at the amazing Boutique by Browns and had a one-night stay with breakfast. It was really good! 

If you're interested in Women's History and the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, you might also enjoy my book, Forgotten Women of the Wars of the Roses, which highlights a number of women in Arthur's early life. Order your copy here. 

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